Take a Degree or Be a Tradesman?

I received a straightforward question from a Singaporean who called himself "A cursed Singaporean son." His question reminded of a discussion of in Parliament early this year when Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin raised the red flag about a potential “glut” of graduates here, and a possible problem of people becoming over-educated and underemployed in the near future.

PM Lee offered a solution - the government will relentlessly redefine what constitutes success beyond paper qualifications. How will that work out, for example, the well known iron ceiling for diploma holders in the civil service? The PM responded, "It should depend on your performance. Whether you are a graduate or not should not be critical - for many jobs degree and diploma holders work side by side."

Soon enough later in the year, in accordance to the emperor's wishes, the Public Service Division announced changes to various Government schemes to improve the career prospects of Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates. The improvements would give non-graduates in the Civil Service who perform well and are ready to take on larger responsibilities an opportunity to progress faster in their careers, based on their performance. The PSD said it is also studying merging both the graduate and the non-graduate schemes to give its officers the opportunity to progress on the same career track.

Is it safe for you young punk out there to pursue your diploma or ITE courses with confidence for your future? Let's read the email I received from a young Singaporean and think about it.

Hi, I have question regarding migration. 
Is migration to Australia limited to degree holders only? because as far i've seen, most migrates are university graduates. 
How about high school leavers/certificate holders/diploma holders, do you have any tips for them? 
Best regards, 
A cursed singaporean son.

To A cursed Singaporean son,

No it isn't true that migration to Australia is limited to degree holders. If we look at the Skilled Occupations List (SOL) 2014, [link] you would notice there are a sizable list of occupations on demand which do not require a degree such as, locksmith, bricklayer, gas welder, motorcycle mechanic etc etc. So, should you go to the ITE to take up a relevant course right away? If you are 100% sure you are getting the fuck out of Singapore, sure, go for your trade course if you want to but let me tell you what you have to be prepared for. Make sure you understand what you are getting into.

After your graduation, you will train yourself up as a tradie by finding a relevant job to your trade of choice and work a few years in Singapore. The number of years depend on the requirements of the assessing authority of your trade in Australia. Different trades will require different minimum years of experience. When you are qualified, you will be able to apply for your visa under skilled migration.

Why did I emphasize that you should only do that if you are 100% sure you are migrating? Despite what PM Lee said, you (or other young punks) must be a fool to put faith in his ideas. You will be able to verify that when you take up a trade job. Try for example, go be a welder, in a society where they pay $2 an hour to a worker putting himself at high risk working under at height, confined spaces or under the hot sun. While you are hard at work, think over what PM Lee said, "If you perform well, you will progress faster in your careers," and see if you should place your trust in the great leader. In a society where there is but one bogus union to "fight" for the rights of the tradesman, you should never consider being a tradesman unless - and I reiterate - you are 100% sure you want out.

If you have the slightest of doubt, go get your degree and carve a better life for yourself in Singapore. My advice is to totally disregard what PM Lee suggested. Think about it, if the PM is serious about rewarding workers according to their performance instead of their academic qualifications, half of his cabinet should be sacked today! As the Chinese saying goes, "上梁不正下梁歪", until you see them practicing what they preached at the top, don't bet a whisker you'll receive what you are promised at the bottom.


  1. Civil servant here.
    The iron ceiling remains.
    Please don't be naive to believe what these PAP leaders say.
    A change in govt is long overdue.

  2. Hi cursed Singaporean son
    Being a tradesman in Singapore is tough job, unless you are very certain that migration is the path for you and willing to endure whatever it takes <--- I meant to say WHATEVER it takes, interpret this well :) If you are keen to explore this alternative to wriggle out of Singapore, try culinary diploma, less taxing than a handyman and definitely in demand in many countries. If you have no passion or whatsoever, bricklayer, electrician, painter, pipe-fitter are excellent career choices if you don't mind getting your hands dirty. One way to earn money in these career options is to start your own portable business, accumulate some experience and you are ready to go.
    I started off without a degree and boy, it was hard, averaging less than $2k a month and my promotion was stalled to give way to scholars and degree holders. The work you do (I was a teacher) is essentially the same as your degree counterparts but your salary will round up to less than 1/3 of their overall salary in years to come. I finally got my degree after 3 years, and by then my colleagues who started off as fresh grads were earning more than 2/3 of my emplaced salary. I do not see how this will change because civil salaries are pegged with previous experience and education level. During my time as a civil servant (recently got out), I have seen people without a degree who managed to take off in their career, after around 7 to 10 years while a degree holder takes less than half the time. My advice is, please get a degree and be talented simultaneously. You must have both traits to do well. Coming from a diploma background in the first few years of my life, my remuneration package was so bad I don't even have to pay income tax. Of course, that was a personal choice and I maintain full accountability for it.
    I hope you are aware that not having a degree is okay only when you are extremely talented (won some national awards/ be good in swimming or sthg). Otherwise, the promotion schemes within the civil service will continue to project focus and preference over more educated workers. That is, unless they found a way to compensate diploma holders or erase the line between deg and dip holders which i sincerely doubt so.

    1. Would like to also add that salary divisions (and scales) for dip and deg holders are essentially different. In MOE, deg holders are Div 1 while dip are Div 2. As for SAF, there are similar divides too. Frankly, if government meant what they say, the divides would dissolve but no, the divides are still around. Another thing you can consider is to find a job that provides internal transfer to companies you are keen in. For instance, ANZ may have transfers to Aussie, AMEX and some MNCs actually offer transfers to US and Canada.

    2. "my remuneration package was so bad I don't even have to pay income tax"

      Wah, I cannot believe anyone can even possibly make this up, so it must be true.

      I take my hat off. Siong-ay-unit ah!

  3. BRAVO! Excellent reply (h)

    Back in mid-2000's, I had personally considered and researched the ITE tradesmen education/training (plumber or electrician) as a back-up strategy for emigration because I was 100% sure that I wanted to emigrate. That said, I had my degree papers and my original career (IT) as my main strategy, and subsequently took the opportunity to train as a nurse as my first-line back-up strategy. Lucky for me, the main strategy worked.

    Check out Canada's list of wanted skills too (circa May-2014). Note: It gets updated regularly (when quota for a specific job-code gets filled), and a new list is announced yearly around May.

    1. p.s. As far as Canadian PR goes, once you get the PR visa, you can do whatever career you chooses (and/or are able to find employment in) after landing in Canada. You don't have to stuck being a tradesman or whatever job-code your PR is based on. The point is to jump that 1st hurdle -- get that PR visa.

  4. Civil servant here. Believe me earn a degree if you can.

  5. For ppl thinking about migrating as a teacher, better see this and suspect migration will change


  6. Are there still people out there who will fully trust a politician? Every single word from a politician has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

  7. In Perth, as an Asian migrant, your choice are more limited unless you fit in. Degrees do not open doors, networking and the old boys network does. It is more important that you enjoy your work so that it does not feel like work. Otherwise you will be complaining.
    If you want to be a gardener, be a good one. As a tradesman, you can earn more than a dentist or a bulk-bill general doctor. Just don't waste all the income you earn on rubbish and drugs.